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On "The Grief and the Happiness" by Nancy Viera

Nancy Viera’s The Grief and the Happiness is a personal memoir detailing her experiences with her ex-husband before he passed away. Its purpose, I’ve determined, is to provide their son with an account of his late father’s life, personality, and love. I think…?

Viera’s book struck me as unpolished (it is self-published, and so I wonder how many people revised/reviewed it for her). There are sections of the book where she flashes back in time, but these transitions are unclear. We don’t receive any background about her persona until page 60. Viera glosses over periods of time with little comment—often without even indicating how much time had passed; a few times, she tells the reader what happens instead of providing detailed descriptions—which means that we are not emotionally engaged in the scene. There are moments of storytelling that never dive below surface-level, and although Viera really tries to keep her tone about her ex-husband positive, at times it felt like I was reading a revenge narrative.

I had added this book to my list because Viera read an excerpt from it during our seminar. The excerpt she read was about trying to attain spouse benefits after her husband passed away (he was active-duty military), and in the excerpt, someone accuses her of being a “dependa.” This is a term with which I am deeply familiar, as a military spouse. So all of this, from being a “dependent” to being accused of being a “dependa” to grieving a military spouse’s death—all of it seemed relevant to the story I originally planned to write: the story of a USAF spouse.

In truth, this book was not about being a military spouse or dependent at all, really. Viera was only married to her husband for two years while he was active duty. There is little, if anything, content-wise, that’s relevant to my own writing.

One lesson I can take from reading Viera’s book is similar to the lesson I took from Kirkham’s: don’t be preachy. In fact, both books have turned me so hard from the idea of a memoir because with memoir if it’s not done right—it’s terribly grating and difficult to read. Viera’s book was not difficult to read, per se, because it was short, the sentences were clear and simple. It was difficult to stomach because of the tone, content, and purpose. To me, it felt like something a person might write and keep as a sort of family account or inheritance—not really for the public consumption. Her book, I presume, was mostly for hers and her son’s benefit.

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